Research Watch

Disclosure of child sexual abuse in adulthood: Gender differences in disclosure, nondisclosure and help-seeking behavior.

Year of Publication
Reviewed By
Olive Lyons

Okur Pinar, van der Knaap Leontien M, & Bogaerts, S. (2020). A Quantitative Study on Gender Differences in Disclosing Child Sexual Abuse and Reasons for Nondisclosure. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 35(23–24), 5255–5275. Social Services Abstracts. 


Using a self-report survey, this study sought to examine whether there are gender differences in the disclosure of child sexual abuse (CSA) to formal and informal networks. Furthermore, the authors examined whether any such gender differences were related to abuse characteristics and attitudes towards gender roles. 

Overall, 3,700 students (18 – 25 years old) from vocational schools and universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands were surveyed about their childhood experiences of sexual abuse, disclosures, and help-seeking behavior. The study’s findings are based on a sub-sample (n = 586), with a breakdown of 475 women and 111 men who were sexually victimized before the age of 18. When considering formal disclosure patterns, meaning to ‘legal or child protection authorities’, 8.7% disclosed their victimization in this manner, whilst 85.8% did not disclose formally, and the remainder was missing. Concerning informal disclosure (family member or friend), 54.3% disclosed to a family member/friend, 42.5% did not tell anyone, and the remaining 3.2% is missing.

Of note, 9.7% of women and 7.1% men disclosed formally. Conversely, informal disclosures paint a different picture, with 60% of women vs. 38.5% men disclosed to a family member or friend. When victims disclosed to an informal confidante, disclosures were more forthcoming when the abuse was of greater severity (penetrative CSA) and in situations where the victimization occurred in close personal relationships (family/stepfamily/intimate partner).

In relation to the reasoning for nondisclosure to formal authorities (legal or child protection services), there were no significant gender differences. However, concerning nondisclosure to informal networks (family/friends), women reported more often than men a reluctance in this regard, citing that they did not wish for those close to them to find out about the abuse.  

Additional gender differences were highlighted; men were abused at a younger age (before 12) than women, men blamed both themselves and the perpetrator twice as much as women (20.3% vs. 11.3%). Other noted gender differences: women were more often subjected to penetrative CSA (15.2%) than men (5.4%), whereas men reported more ‘hands-off’ CSA (25.2%) than women (11.3%). In addition, men reported that they were abused by peers three times more often than women (34% vs. 11.3%). Overall, the gender of the perpetrator differed significantly, with men reporting a female perpetrator in 63% of the cases, whereas only 1% of women named a female perpetrator.

Methodological Notes

Certain limitations were noted, such as only victims who experienced abuse by one perpetrator were included in the analysis, resulting in a cohort of victims being left out of the research. Individuals who may have experienced child sexual abuse but do not wish to report for this study cannot be followed up due to the cross-sectional study design. A large proportion of differences in disclosure is unknown, as child and abuse characteristics accounted for 10% of the variance. Additionally, a retrospective self-report study such as this can also pose limitations in terms of recall accuracy. Notwithstanding these limitations, this is an important study, as few quantitative studies exist that include males and females in the sample, thus providing much-needed evidence to the field of gender and disclosure.